Thank you Mr Ma

June 15th, 2007

Another excellent translation from ESWN, this time Ma Ying-Jeou (or however his name is supposed to be spelt in the dog’s breakfast of romanisation that exists over on that troublesome little island) on the seven waves of immigration to Taiwan and their impact on local culture and identity.

Of course, he gets in a few jabs at his political rivals, but I’d like to avoid the politics inherent in this kind of discussion, if that’s at all possible, because Ma raises some very good points that should cut across political boundaries. Emphasis on should. In fact, some of these points, with an appropriate localisation (oops, should avoid that word in this context), or at least, the principles behind those points, probably should be applied to all societies. I particularly like the start of the essay:

If we look at the history of Taiwan from the viewpoint of globalization, we can get a more expansive historical view.  As a result, “the Taiwan consciousness” and “the Taiwan person” will assume completely different meanings.

Taiwan was the homeland of the aborigines.  But just as the American Indians had their fates changed during the seafaring era, the Taiwanese aborigines (either living in the flatlands or the mountains) saw their fates changed.  The critical geographical location of Taiwan and the continuous influx of immigrants changed Taiwan into something different.

Getting back to original question: What is Taiwan?  What is “local”?  If “local” represents the “original Taiwan,” then the Minnan dialect, the Hakka dialect and the putonghua are all foreign languages.  The Dutch, the Spanish, Cheng Ch’eng-kung, the Qing dynasty, Japan, the Kuomintang and the Democratic Progressive Party are all “foreign government authorities.”  If all “foreign government authorities” should withdraw and all Han descendants should withdraw from Taiwan, what is left in Taiwan then?

Who is a “Taiwanese”?  How long must you live in Taiwan in order to become a “Taiwanese”?  From the Ming dynasty or the Qing dynasty?  In the case of Hsieh Hsueh-hung, her father immigrated to Taiwan as a tenant-farmer and so she is the descendant of a person from an outside province.  Is she a Taiwanese?  If the fourth-generational child of the people who retreated with the Kuomintang government to Taiwan in 1949 cannot be called Taiwanese, then who is a “Taiwanese”?

We cannot reverse history, but we can try to expand our vista.  From the grand narrative of globalization and the mass immigrations of population, we seek to find the history of how present notion of “Taiwanese” is formed in order to get to the root of the problem.

Generally speaking, Taiwan has gone through seven waves of immigration.  The formation of the local culture in Taiwan is part of this grand history of immigration.

He goes on to describe those seven waves of immigration, their contribution (or lack thereof in the case of the Spanish and Dutch), and the various “ethnic” clashes between the successive waves of immigrants.

I’m also impressed with his apparent cosmopolitanism. I say ‘apparent’ because he’s a politician, and I don’t trust politicians any further than I can throw them. And I don’t have much in the way of upper body strength with which to go throwing grown men around, so you can see I really don’t trust politicians very much at all. It is very easy to suspect that Ma is using this cosmopolitanism as another stick with which to beat his rivals:

But this only pertains to the political realm.  The ethnic clashes and cultural contradictions between old and new immigrants continue to occur.  A certain government official in Taiwan said: “We must not let the foreign spouses have too many children, because that will lower the quality of the population.”  That is the typical “ethnic discrimination.”  We must be very careful in not letting the ruling Democratic Progressive Party become a “fourth generation immigrant body” which monopolizes power and then oppresses the seventh generation of immigrants.

Now I don’t know enough about Taiwan politics to comment on this, but I do find Ma’s stance interesting, even though I suspect it’s just more empty posturing by some guy who only wants power.

And I’ll throw in the last two paragraphs of the essay just for good measure:

Yet all these symbolic signs about clashes over provincial origins and government authorities coming in from the outside no longer have any ability to explain contemporary society in Taiwan.  When the villages of Mei Nong have numerous foreign spouses living there and the rural villages of central Taiwan have Filipina maids shopping and bargaining for prices in the traditional markets, who cares about what happened sixty years ago?

For the younger generation who are under 30 or 40 years old, they no longer ask about provincial origin when they first meet each other; instead they only ask which city in Taiwan you come from.  Yet the political figures remain divorced from this reality and continue to bicker over the ancient “false issue.”  They are merely trying to protect their own interests …

Very interesting, indeed. Ma seems to be setting himself up as the progressive, forward-looking candidate, a firm supporter of a multi-cultural society. Not what I would have expected.

Anyway, I’m trying to avoid the politics, because that can only lead to trouble. All I’m trying to say is that I find Ma’s approach to history, ethnicity and identity very interesting. In this essay he explains far more clearly than I managed some of the points I was trying to make, or was planning on trying to make, in this ramble.

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